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I can understand why fear pervades the social space. Some psychologists have argued that social networking will contribute to the death of emotional intelligence. I don’t share this paranoia. Email didn't kill the conversation, so why should social networking?

In my opinion, the medium through which you communicate does not destroy your inter-personal skills, it merely reflects and amplifies them. Here's my take on why social media can have a positive effect on our communication skills.

Let’s take some responsibility

If you stop communicating and simply rely on technology to send information, then you have to take responsibility for allowing technology to change your efficiency. Social channels provide a communication tool that enables people to share/discuss information instantly and globally. I would argue that this is actually opening up inter-personal skills and improving communication; reach has grown exponentially.

Take the example of the recent United Airlines PR disaster – Dave Carroll’s use of YouTube highlighted the issue of poor customer service to a global audience (over 3.6m video views) who in turn got involved in the debate and spread the original content across their networks as well as commenting on what happened. The result?

  • A single communication affecting millions of people.
  • Generation of new dialogue and engagement.
  • Sharing of thoughts and opinions to influence an outcome, as United Airlines apologised publicly.

Just because that engagement took place virtually without face-to-face contact is not in itself negative. Without social media this conversation would never have taken place. 

Worldwide monitoring

Let’s take another recent example with the snowball that is Twitter. Habitat miss-used trending hashtags. The effect? A surge of criticism chastising Habitat for what was, at best, naivety.

Whilst the focus of conversation was on the morals of Habitat’s actions, this also raised awareness of the genuine news story regarding the Iran Election. Opinions were shared, blog posts created and a major discussion ensued. I think this is progressive. Not every comment was constructive but the ‘real world’ is not utopian either.

I read an interesting comment yesterday that argued, “Just as it's harder to write a one page summary than a 20 page report, it takes considerable skill to communicate clearly and unambiguously in just 140 characters.” With only 140 characters to write, micro blogging could actually help improve communication as people focus on what is relevant and important.

Yes I accept that some tweets are poorly structured (others perhaps done without any real purpose) but I’ve sat in many a pub where the same applies to the general banter! And who decides what valuable communication is anyway? Surely that is the recipient’s honour?

Learning from the community could be beneficial

Empathy is essential if you are to get people to engage with you in social channels, then somebody who lacks inter-personal skills is likely to struggle with online communication too. As an individual you can learn quickly from others in your online community and you will know if people aren’t responding, some will tell you directly others will simply tune out. It takes time, dedication and commitment to become a valuable member of a social network. 

Social media is starting to change the way companies communicate internally

Innovative companies use social tools like blogs and wikis to compliment their existing internal communications strategy. The social elements encourage individuals to become involved on a personal level with company policy and culture. They encourage participation and knowledge sharing because they are not imposed centrally but grown organically.

BT is a good example of this and Steve Nichol’s CiB blog gives a good background. The pull out quote is from Ross Chesney, BT’s head of Communication Services: “The important thing is not the tools that people use to publish, but what they get out of it. The real value is the knowledge sharing and collaboration that people gain.”

Social media might turn people away from personal contact

To take a balanced, rational view, it is also perfectly possible that some might turn to social media to shy away from direct contact. Perhaps this is a bad thing, I’m sure the psychologists can contribute the theory. But what if direct contact is so painfully embarrassing and stressful to such people that they would not interact anyway? Perhaps then social media can actually increase a person's communication skills, albeit in a less implicit way where physical human relationships can't be developed.

I think a key issue to discuss is how parents need to adapt to social networks and encourage their children to interact safely and not harm the development of other communication skills.

Net benefit

Surely enabling communication that previously would not have happened is actually encouraging people to develop soft skills? Yes the communication is explicit rather than implicit (i.e. you can't see their emotions, you can only pick up on them by the tone/style of writing) but the world relies on variety to create engagement.

There is a great blog post you can read by Robert Pagliarini on the perils of “groupthink” in social networks and the ways in which social networks can expand your horizons.

Don’t shoot the messenger - It’s just another communication tool

We would not be having this discussion now if this website did not exist. I think it is better that people engage online than not at all. My knowledge and perspective has been developed by using professional networks like Econsultancy. My ability to interact socially has not been adversely affected. I don't see social media replacing more traditional forms of communication; I simply see it enhancing the toolset we can use to communicate on a more global level. That to me is progress and should be embraced.

Happy to hear any challenges to or progressions of my view, that's the beauty of being social...

James Gurd

Published 18 September, 2009 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Michael Litman, Co-Founder at In 6 Seconds Ltd

How is any of this a bad thing? It's the biggest evolution in communications we've seen in recent history. And it's here to stay.

Tangibly, I got my job through having a social media presence..

about 7 years ago

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Rachel Cummins

In a business sense - social media is a fantastic MASS COMMUNICATION tool - it enables customer access to important and influential people; it empowers customers by giving them more and better platforms from which to praise or criticise; it encourages customer to customer interaction which improves experience and community... I could go on! ; )

As a non-business person also (!) I kind of agree that sometimes people hide behind a social media persona and then when you meet them in person they can be quite different. In this sense people are becoming skilled online communicators yet their 'offline communciation skills' may not be up to much?!

There is some truth in what teh psychologists have seid - in a social, one to one sense, but for business and mass communication, it is only a good thing.

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Afternoon all,

Thanks for the comments. Good to hear that work is being secured using social channels, I think the networking/recruitment angle will only grow. Networks like LinkedIn are having a significant impact on knowledge sharing and 'head hunting'.

Rachel - interesting point about the difference between business and personal communication. I understand but am not convinced by the argument that social media is affecting communication per se, i think it is people's usage of social media that is the driver. Does learning in social networks help increase one-to-one skills?

Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

james

about 7 years ago

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Julia Shuvalova

I personally believe that what we see on the Web today - that is, on the Social Web - is the reflection of what is happening in real life. Sometimes it only serves to prove the point that we don't take things into account unless we saw them written. With regards to communication skills, Social Media reflects perfectly how good a communicator the person is. How they speak? What they say? How they respond? I am very much aware of how people scream at each other for no real reason. But is this not what is happening on the Social Web sometimes, and is it not why Online PR specialists advise to listen first, then to calm down, then to identify the real problem, then to respond? Apart from all wonderful things about Social Media, to me this is an awareness tool, both in business and, erm, metaphysical sense.

about 7 years ago

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Dynasty Web

I think that social media is an outlet to make communication much better.  It just depends on how we use it for good and not evil.  I think social media is the best thing that could have happen to us.  We can reach out to family and old friends we haven't spoken to in years.  

about 7 years ago

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Sandy Halse, Head of Marketing at eibDIGITAL

Hi Julia

Thanks for the comment - I like your point "Social Media reflects perfectly how good a communicator the person is". Twitter is a great example - many people simply send out tweets but don't join in conversations or engage with people. That is very much like push marketing. I agree that what you say (written or verbal) is a reflection of who you are as a person.

thanks

james

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Sorry, left the last comment from my colleague's laptop forgetting it was on her login - great comment though Sandy:)

about 7 years ago

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Meri Walker

I so appreciate your posting here! Technologies don't supplant human capacities, they either enhance them or change them in some significant ways. For the last 20 years, I've been watching and participating in the evolution of what is now becoming a whole NEW kind of real-time communication that happens through computing interfaces. Personally, I'm excited about what I'm seeing over the last 12 months, especially using interfaces llike Twitter.

I trained as an English teacher and a journalist and I have to say that learning to write for Twitter has made a powerful, beneficial impact on my writing style. The social connection that goes on in places like Blip.fm, for example, where you're explicityly rewarded for connecting with others and patting them on the back for playing a song you appreciate, is teaching powerful community-building skills. I could go on at length... and I won't. Examples of the ways that social media are enhancing communication and people skills are legion!

Just as in F2F communication, what matters most are your GOALS for communicating.

about 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

Thanks for all the new comments. Dynasty Web, I think your point about how we use it is salient.

Lydia - you make some interesting points about shortcuts in conversation - perhaps though a new grammar is growing out of the technology and this represents natural evolution of language? Not saying that is either a good or bad thing but perhaps we are experiencing a language shift.

Meri - great to read your comments - interesting to learn from the perspective of a teacher and journalist for whom the written/spoken word is clearly important.

There is a theme in this discussion that whilst nothing is perfect, social media can have a positive effect on communication and engagement.

Please keep the comments coming, really appreciate the input.

thanks

james

about 7 years ago

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azulchica

social media sucks! focus on somthing more promoting like '' is using bottled water to costly for our sociaty''!

almost 7 years ago

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greg

yah your todally right about that so keep focused on bottled water being to costly for our society

almost 7 years ago

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Jonathan Barnes

Great article James.

Social Media isn't the problem, it's some of the unsociable people who use it who are the problem! You see it used well and then there are the automated types and the ones who just chat about the cup of tea they had yesterday morning...

For me the beauty of Social Media is that you chose the information that comes to you, so it's always relevant really, because you chose to "Follow" them, or be"Friend" them... I think this is why Social Media is a great tool!

As for the whether it kills people skills, I believe that from a company's perspective, they should turn this question around: "Do my staff have the sufficient people skills to harness Social Media?" If not, then my theory is that it is in the organisation's interest to develop their employee's soft skills through presentations, team building exercises and other training methods...

Thanks for the article,

A very interesting read!

Jon

almost 7 years ago

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Karen Friedman

Great remarks and good observations. I'm a former television reporter who now runs a communications firm. In the "old days", communicating was a one way street. We gathered information from many certainly but we put it out there the way we saw it. You could watch or change channels. Today,  social media has provided a wonderful opportunity for interaction, engagement and a sharing of ideas on a global stage. But it's also made communicating harder because not everyone is adept at getting to the point, making information relevant to others or understanding their audience which is crucial regardless of the vehicle you have chosen to communicate through. To the author's point, the truth is that Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Blogs etc are not communicating. They are simply the formats or tools that allow us to join the conversation and these tools have allowed normally passive people to participate and have forced organizations to be more transparent with employees and the public.

over 6 years ago

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Jimmy

Theres positives and negatives to social media.  It all depends on the individuals uses/motives, purposes, and goals. 

I see a lot of positives from the replies.  I really don't see anyone sharing or posting the negatives.  I'm reading that it's great for global, intranet interaction, and online communities.  I'm also seeing that it can improve how you convey your messages and your point in perhaps a more concise matter(like in twitter); rather then an ambiguous way. Lastly, spawn different types of discussion that can influence and engage into 100 million possibilities.

Now, when I'm reading the word "communication", their are different forms that come to my mind.  Theirs the face to face and the text/keyboard method.  

I believe you can be the best grammatically correct person but still won't have the social skills in person.  Take a student from a foreign country learning to read and write in english.  Although, being from the native country by default and english being that persons second language is much to consider.  Heck, social dating sites have connected people and avoiding social interaction from the forefront altogether.  You know what this tells me?  Social communications skills are diminishing.  We just don't see it.  Who knows the demographics and the majority groups and./or individuals that are being affected by this.  In a cynical way, I believe the younger generation are being hit by it the most.  Websites like Myspace, Tagged, etc. in a way is WOMBAT. Every heard of this acronym? (Waste Of Brains Money And Time.)  Whatever happen to picking up a good book, playing a board game of scrabble, getting out of the house vs. checking and reading reviews from others about places.  I could go on. . .

Lastly, I would like to say it's good and bad in a myriad of ways. . . It also makes people lazier in a sense.  I know it's kind of harsh. Oh, and typing skills is a plus.  Writing and penmanship can possibly be affected. . .

Jimmy

over 6 years ago

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